The Heartbeat of Vinyl

Posted on in On Our Radar by Mark Metz

Analog Nutrition in
a Digital World


Do you shop organically? What about your personal space—are you concerned with having a high vibration in your home? It’s easy to focus on the things that we see, touch, or put into our bodies. But what if we’re overlooking something so obvious it’s like the air we breathe?

Music surrounds us like water around a fish. It’s the background to our daily lives, whether we’re eating, shopping, or working out at the gym. But something odd happened on our way to the modern age—when we made the trade-off for convenience, we lost the emotional nourishment that gives music the mojo we crave.

It’s no secret that vinyl records have made a comeback. What started as a hipster revival over a decade ago has blossomed into an impressive global trend. Revenue from new records outstripped both digital downloads and all streaming services combined in 2016. Cassette tapes are enjoying a revival as well. But is it just nostalgia and appreciation for the artifact that’s driving the world’s thirst for analog, or is there something deeper?

People often say that analog recordings (vinyl records or magnetic tape) “sound warmer.” A better way to put it would be that they “feel live.” We hear music with our entire bodies, not just our ears, and analog recordings convey more than just the mental information of a digital file. Our bodies feel analog music because it is electromagnetically recorded and played back.

Magnets are used in the cutting head that carves the sound wave into the plates that press the records. Behind the stylus on a turntable are magnets that transform the sound wave pressed into the record back into the music you hear. There is no compression of the sound—the full dynamic range is preserved. Why is this important? Why does it make such a difference to our health and well-being?

Research by the Heartmath Institute suggests that our hearts have 5,000 times more electromagnetic energy than our brains. Spiritual traditions abound with metaphors regarding the electromagnetic bubble in which we reside. Regardless of whether you have a scientific or New Age perspective, analog sound is experienced as a feeling of electromagnetic resonance in the body.

vinyl record

Digital sound, on the other hand, is encoded and decoded using electrical impulses assigning ones and zeros to the sound 44,100 times per second. Instead of a smooth, curved sound wave, what you’re hearing is a series of steps. The inherent roughness of the sound wave creates a dissonance that our bodies can feel.

What does this mean for your health and well-being? Recent research at the University of Hong Kong found that MP3s (the most-common form of digital audio compression) actually weaken the positive emotional characteristics of happy, romantic, and calm while amplifying sad, scary, and mysterious. Digital listening habits shorten the attention span—49% of Spotify users skip ahead before the song finishes.

In contrast, listening to vinyl is to live life in 20-minute intervals. Analog is an immersive front-and-center experience, while digital plays into our modern tendency to multitask. Young people especially respond well to analog music in the home, as the atmosphere is more conducive to study and contemplation. For parents concerned with ADHD or screen addiction, turntables and a vinyl collection are recommended antidotes. In a world of incessant updates, timeless is the new radical.

Analog enhances creativity in a number of ways. Collecting music online is driven by algorithms, which are designed to give you more of what you already like, which has a narrowing effect on your creativity. Building a record collection is the exact opposite. Browsing in stores is a social experience that leads you to intuitive leaps. Creativity is nonlinear with vinyl; cross-genre exploration is the name of the game.

Records are meant to be enjoyed with others, and there’s arguably no greater high than being a vinyl-spinning DJ, but unlike digital files, analog music is supremely satisfying when you are by yourself as well. As Henry Rollins, the spoken-word artist and front man for Black Flag put it, “Sitting in a room, alone, listening to a CD is to be lonely. Sitting in a room alone with an LP crackling away is to enjoy a sublime state of solitude.”

The analog lifestyle isn’t something you buy once and forget. To enrich your life with vinyl, think of it as a practice, like meditation or yoga. You have to build new habits around bringing home records on a regular basis. You have to discipline yourself to let go of the ones that never get played, or you can fall prey to hoarder’s disorder, the shadow side of record collecting. You’ll learn which kinds of music match the various activities around your home and cultivate atmospheres to match. Jazz with morning coffee? Rock-and-roll for after work? Perhaps piano music is the ingredient you need to make cooking a breeze.

One thing you’ll notice about records is that they build up more meaning with time. You’ll never get tired of listening to the ones you most love. Crates of records are like cosmic compost. You’ll find yourself digging out long-forgotten gems and breathing new life into them to update the present with good feelings from the past. There’s a story behind every record, and they fold into the fabric of your social life like interdimensional markers of meaning. From the new friends you make when you’re out on the hunt to the depth of connection your old pals will feel when they visit and dig through your stacks, it’s like having a magic mirror of your mojo that grows with you and gets better with age.

Mark Metz is the publisher of Conscious and founder of the Dance First Association. He teaches about Analog Awareness and is the host of Dance Jam in Berkeley, a vinyl-centric conscious dance event every Friday night.

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